Photo credit: Tang Shi
It is no secret that Japan’s women are extremely strong this year. They won the Uber Cup trophy in May and they have five pairs in top 10 of the women’s double world ranking.
And in today’s semifinals at Korea Open we saw four Japanese pairs in women’s double. Top seeds and world number one Yuki Fukushima and Sayaka Hirota were up against Naoko Fukuman and Kurumi Yonao who rank 17 in the world. It was the lower ranked pair that had a favorable head-to-head statistic before today’s match; Fukuman and Yonao were leading 2-1.
There was no doubt of the outcome of today’s semifinal though. Fukushima and Hirota were way too strong for their compatriots and they pretty much had the match under control from the very first serve today. From 6-6 in first game it was Fukushima and Hirota all over and the top seeds won 21-15 21 12.
The opponents in the final had to be found in the other semifinal, which was between Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi (2) and Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto (4). The second seeded reigning Olympic Champions were up 4-1 head-to-head before starting the match today.
And also here the favorites were far too strong for the match to become exciting. In a nearly identical development of the match, Matsutomo and Takahashi won easily 21-10 21-11 in just half an hour. That means we will get the best possible badminton in the women’s double final of Korea Open tomorrow; the finalists are ranked 1 and 2 in the world.
Great three weeks for Okuhara
Japan was also sure to have a spot in the women’s single final as their two top 10 players met in the semifinal. Akane Yamaguchi is ranked 2 in the world and Nozomi Okuhara 8. The two played their 16th encounter today.
It was 9-6 for Okuhara in the previous 15 encounters but today Yamaguchi started off best. She quickly gained a comfortable lead but Okuhara caught up with her so at 13-13 things were even. Then 6 consecutive points decided the first game in Yamaguchi’s favor; 21-16.
Second game was also close up to 8-8. Then Okuhara slowly pulled away with a few points, and it turned out to be enough for the remaining of the game, which she won 21-17. Just like in their last encounter at Indonesia Open, three games were necessary to find a winner.
And in this third game it looked as if Akane Yamaguchi was going to win the match. She gained another comfortable lead twice during the game but both times Okuhara closed the gap again. And then it was the World Champion from 2017 who closed the match with an exceptional finish instead.
A combination of errors from Yamaguchi and good play from Okuhara gave the latter 8 consecutive points to turn 13-14 into 21-14 and a spot in the final. The past three weeks have been quite successful for Nozomi Okuhara so far; runner-up in Japan Open, semifinalist in China Open, and now finalist in Korea Open.
Results from the semifinals at Korea Open:
MS: Chou Tien Chen, Chinese Taipei (4) vs. Kenta Nishimoto, Japan (6) 19-21 21-18 21-14
MS: Tommy Sugiarto, Indonesia (8) vs. Jonatan Christie, Indonesia 21-13 22-20
WS: Beiwen Zhang, USA (6) vs. Sung Ji Hyun, Korea (4) 21-18 21-19
WS: Nozomi Okuhara, Japan (3) vs. Akane Yamaguchi, Japan (1) 16-21 21-17 21-14
MD: Takuro Hoki/Yugo Kobayashi, Japan vs. Choi Solgyu/Seo Seung Jae, Korea 21-11 21-14
MD: Hiroyuki Endo/Yuta Watanabe, Japan (8) vs. Chooi Kah Ming/Low Juan Shen, Malaysia 21-13 21-12
WD: Yuki Fukushima/Sayaka Hirota, Japan (1) vs. Naoko Fukuman/Kurumi Yonao, Japan 21-15 21-12
WD: Misaki Matsutomo/Ayaka Takahashi, Japan (2) vs. Shiho Tanaka/Koharu Yonemoto (4) 21-10 21-11
XD: He Jiting/Du Yue, China (5) vs. Dechapol Puavaranukroh/Sapsiree Taerattanachai, Thailand (8) 21-19 21-11
XD: Mathias Christiansen/Christinna Pedersen, Denmark (2) vs. Seo Seung Jae/Chae Yujung, Korea 20-22 21-13 21-15